Lynn Redgrave: You Have To Be Pushed

Borges claimed that the color he last saw, last remembered, before going blind, was yellow. Bright, creamy, life-affirming yellow, which I associate with the sun, with health, with Italian plazas, with cake batters I can’t resist sticking my finger in--a fun color. I try to imagine Borges having this residual memory of color, this happy memory, for the rest of his life, and I wonder how he husbanded the memory, how he might have strained to carry it with him. Writers and actors and musicians have given me colors, if you will, that I husband, that I carry within me, that I strain to recall.

    Lynn Redgrave has a lot of color within and about her, and I carry her colors with me; I think of her colors when I need to be propelled to write. I do not believe that an aura is anything but the energy and spirit that a person emanates, and hers is warm and vibrant. It is not aggressive or solipsistic; it is not the performer’s  trick of garnering attention. It is simply the manner in which she lives--as a performer. I have not had the pleasure of knowing her as intimately as I would have liked in her personal adventures, but within her work is a conscientious effort, an intelligent effort, to convey life in her every movement, and within her efforts is either a great joy, or a great attempt to thwart unhappiness or insecurity, and this gives her work an incredible color. She’s the color of the setting sun on Italian villas, a mothering amber, or a soft pink, the cassis blending with the Dubonnet, that promises so much comfort and conversation, or a bright red, announcing activity, either dangerous or constructive.
Tennessee Williams, in 1982
   Tenn had become a painter in his later years, working on canvas, sketching, painting, smearing. “I have no name for what I do,” he told me, “no artistic genre. I just move colors and characters around.” Tenn loved the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Helen Frankenthaler and Josef Albers, and he thought of Lynn when he applied color, because, for him, she was the splash of color that dramatically set the design of a play or a film or a conversation. "She has about her an ability similar to Paul Klee," Tenn told me. "She throws the color toward you, and all becomes clear: The theme has been set."

Lynn Redgrave epitomized for me a sense of order and appropriateness: She resisted efforts to speak to me, and while always polite, she made it clear that she had other priorities, and she told me what they were: her family, her health, her writing and acting assignments. However, each phone call was illuminating, precise, kind. We shared mutual friends and she knew of my work and wanted to help me,  but, as she kept reminding me, she didn't have the time.

Until, suddenly, she did, and we had a series of long conversations about a bewildering array of subjects. One of the reasons she had resisted speaking to me, she confessed, was that she was not happy with her work on The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots, the film version of The Seven Descents of Myrtle, in which she starred under the direction of Sidney Lumet. "I wanted that film, and that time with the work of Tennessee Williams, to be everything I had anticipated," Redgrave told me, "and it wasn't. I've since learned not to expect too much or to decide how an experience is going to turn out. I've learned to work hard and do all that I'm supposed to do and pray that it works out."

Did she want to talk about the experience? "No," she said. "I'd rather not, because I love and respect Tennessee Williams, and I know what he's given us. I'm happy to be one of those witnesses who will say--proudly and loudly--that he mattered and that he altered not only the theatre but those people who have read and seen and acted in his plays. Let's remember that. Let's honor that. My one unfortunate experience with his work is not important--not even to me at this point."

Eating watermelon with Sidney Lumet on the Louisiana set of The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots.
Lumet was effusive in his praise of Redgrave, both in that film and in other parts, and he remembers her as seeming like a little girl, bouncing and jostling and making every attempt to move or amuse or arouse her fellow players or the inert words on the pages of the script. "She's Herculean in her talent and in her generosity with it," Lumet told me. "To merely be around her is to be endowed with extraordinary things: Joy and spirit and curiosity chief among them."

Lynn Redgrave also had the gift of becoming a friend, an ally, a guide, and a powerful advocate when bad things happened to you.  I am grateful to have been a recipient of her extraordinary kindness.

"You have to be pushed," she told me once. "You either push yourself or life crowds you into a corner. How you react, how you behave, challenges and changes you. It's amazing what you learn and what you become. In the end, however, you're grateful for the push."

Redgrave, James Coburn, and Robert Hooks in The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots.



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